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South Africa's First International Side

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These stern gentlemen, who no doubt, were fashionably attired in the style of their day, proudly hold the record of being the members of the first ever sporting team to represent South Africa in international competition, some twenty one years before South Africa became a united country. They are the eleven cricketers chosen to represent South Africa in the first ever Test match which was played at St George’s Park, Port Elizabeth on the 12th and 13th March 1889. Their opponents being an English side under the captaincy of C. Aubrey Smith.

Who were these gentlemen?. This article records their contribution to the game of cricket in this country and where known, their achievements in other fields. The team has a strong Eastern Cape flavour, in that, six of them were born and raised in the area. Another three were born and educated in England and a tenth born in India but schooled in England. Very little is known of the early days of the eleventh player.

Studying the photograph, and starting at the top left in the back row, the first player is Albert Rose Innes, an all-rounder who opened the batting in both the tests played in the series meeting with little success. It was for his ability as a steady slow left arm bowler that he achieved fame, being the first South African bowler to claim five wickets in an innings in a test match, This he did in the first innings of the first Test taking five wickets for forty three runs off eighteen overs. He was only twenty years of age at the time of his debut and his first class career was very short, consisting of these two tests, two other games against the tourists, three Currie cup matches and then one final match for Transvaal against the third English side to tour here in 1896 when his match bowling analysis was an impressive sixty four overs with twenty four maidens, taking seven wickets for one hundred and twenty three runs. Rose Innes learnt his cricket in the Eastern Cape but moved to Kimberley at the height of the diamond rush as a young man. He appeared in the first Currie Cup match against Transvaal, playing an important role with both bat and ball. During the course of this match it was suggested that a national body be formed to control the game of cricket in this country and immediately after the game, a meeting was held, to discuss the role of the proposed South African Cricket Association. Albert was there in attendance, as the delegate representing the Eastern Cape. Like so many of his generation he was attracted by the lure of gold fields, and left Kimberley for Johannesburg where he became the Secretary/Treasurer of the Transvaal Cricket Union. He held this position for two years before returning to the Eastern Cape, where he was to devote much of his time in later life to spreading the popularity of the game in the area.

Next to Albert, stands A. B. Tancred who used his initials as his nickname. ‘A.B.’ is considered to be the first great batsman produced in South Africa. He hailed from a sporting family in the Eastern Cape, being one of five brothers all of whom played a good standard of cricket, two of whom followed in his footsteps being selected for South African national sides. A B. played in both tests being top scorer in both innings of the first match, as well as, in the first innings of the second test. In the early part of his career he was considered to be a nervous starter but overcame the problem by becoming an opening batsman with a sound defence and a full range of shots which he used to good advantage. He was the first player in this country to score two centuries in the same match and he also has the distinction of recording the first century in provincial cricket. He was selected as a member of the first South African touring side to the United Kingdom in 1894 but unfortunately, he had to decline owing to his business commitments. An attorney, by profession, he gained a degree of fame a few years later as the legal representative for the ringleaders of the Jameson Raid. In the sporting world his legal background assisted him in chairing the first meetings of the Transvaal Cricket Union in 1891/92. He served a further term as Chairman of the Union from 1903 for two years whilst still in his early thirties. Tragically he died at a young age following an operation.

In the centre of the back row is ‘Fin’ or to use his full title, C. E. Finlayson, who despite his melancholy expression, was one of the teams true characters. He liked to have his way on the field, even to keeping on bowling a few more overs, after his captain had decided to take him off. A delightful personality with a keen sense of fun he was not afraid to stir the pot where necessary. An Englishman who came to this country in search of adventure, he first settled in Kimberley and then Klerksdorp. ‘Fin’ only played in the first test, as an all-rounder but met with no success. By profession a journalist, he incurred the wrath of the visiting players, by penning acid comments on their performance and on the state of play for all the matches in which he was involved. These were published each morning in the local press. Fin was also in attendance at the meeting which brought about the formation of a national cricket union, his brief was to represent the Klerksdorp area. His name continues to live on in South African first class cricket records being the co-holder of the tenth wicket batting record for Griqualand West with A.E.Cooper. Their partnership of 95 runs against Transvaal in Johannesburg was set in the 1890/91 season. Shortly thereafter, whilst still at the height of his cricket career, he moved on, spending a year or so travelling, by oxcart, around what was to become Southern Rhodesia. He produced an entertaining book on his adventures ‘A Nobody in Mashonaland’, which became a best-seller. On his return to this country he settled in Pretoria where he edited a newspaper which supported the views of President Paul Kruger. Thereafter he moved to Johannesburg were he became the editor of the ‘The Star’ but complained bittrerly to his Directors that he was being continually thwarted by Barney Barnato. Eventually he was forced to resign before the turn of the century after having involved the newspaper in a libel action. During his time in Johannesburg he acquired business interests in a chain of trading stores on the Reef. This gave him the financial independence he sought and he moved back to England settling just outside of London. It is said that he was also a first class tennis player who did much to put the game on the map in Johannesburg and the rest of the country Standing next to him is a stern looking C. H. [Charlie] Vintcent, a popular man with both players and spectators alike due to his cheerful disposition on the field. Born in Mossel Bay and educated in Cape Town, Charlie Vintcent, was without doubt the most versatile South African sportsman of his time. He excelled in every sport he played representing both Western Province and Transvaal at rugby, obtaining his national colours for soccer, a sport he did much to promote on the Reef and as an athlete he was the Transvaal sprint champion in the events from the 100 yards to 440 yards for three years from 1889 to1891, besides being competitive at both the long and high jump events. Charlie was a left handed all-rounder who played in both tests in this series as well as the only test of the 1891/92 series against the second English touring side. He owed his original selection to his fine performance for Kimberley in the fifth match of the tour falling 13 runs short of a century and taking nine wickets in the match for one hundred and five runs off eighty nine overs. He was unable to carry this form into the Internationals and his Test record is not a true reflection of his ability. Nevertheless he enjoyed a long career in provincial cricket which lasted some twenty seasons playing first an important role for Transvaal in the early Currie Cup fixtures, and then when he returned to the Southern Cape, he captained them in their only appearance at provincial level, by which stage he was close to forty years of age. Charlie Vintcent lived a long and active life passing away in 1943 at the age of seventy seven.

The player who makes up the back row is F. W. [Fred] Smith, something of an enigma, his background being obscure. He captained both Kimberley and Transvaal and was instrumental in the formation of the Transvaal Cricket Union but not much is known of him other than that, as a young man, he was an athlete of note, winning many trophies as a sprinter. His cricket test career covered three matches in all, two on this tour and one six years later. It is on record that he was a quick scoring batsman, an outstanding wicketkeeper as well as a useful change bowler but, unfortunately his test record does not reveal this. After his sporting days were over he was quick to move out of the limelight. Details of his birth are not on record and although it is known that he died in 1913, no record has been left of the date, the cause or place of death.

First on the left in the middle row is Philip Hutchinson, an Englishman, who was living in Pietermaritzburg at the time of his selection. He had made a name for himself as a coach in the Natal Midlands, but it would appear that there was some controversy at the time of his selection as his form did appear to warrant consideration for the national side. He had the misfortune to be dismissed first ball in his first test innings and only scored seventeen runs in his four turns at bat in the series. Within a year he had dropped out of cricket altogether, although he was still only in his late 20’s. He continued to live in Natal, settling in Durban, where he died in 1925.

Centre stage, is the captain of the team, Owen Dunell, who was born in Port Elizabeth in 1856 and educated overseas at Eton and Oxford University. He did not make the first team at either school or university level and it would appear that he was a late developer being a particularly dogged batsman. Whilst at Oxford he won his colours for both soccer and tennis and it was during this time that he was elected to membership of the M. C. C., being one of the first South Africans to be so rewarded. When he died in France in 1929 he had been a member of this club for over 56 years. Dunell was only captain for the first test, although he played in the second test at Newlands. He enjoyed a long cricketing career retiring from the provincial scene at the age of forty.

Sitting next to the captain is W. H. Milton, known to all at the time as ‘Joey’. He was the organiser within the team being very much ‘a mover and shaker’. Born in the England he played international rugby for that country, gaining two caps at full back, before coming out to the Cape Colony to join the local Civil Service. He is credited with being responsible for all the tour arrangements using his friendship with Cecil John Rhodes to obtain the necessary financial backing. From the time he arrived in Cape Town he devoted much of his energy to sport, amongst other things, chairing the committee which purchased the land and developed the cricket facilities at Newlands. He also became the first president of the Western Province Cricket Union. On the rugby front he captained the Villagers club in Cape Town and was also prominent as a local referee, but his main claim to fame was in seconding the motion that rugby in the Western Province should adopt the Union rules, the game that we know today. What this motion did was convert the game from the then popular version which was known as Winchester rules and which prevailed at the Cape. As a confidante of Cecil Rhodes, he moved north after the Jameson Raid to Southern Rhodesia being charged with the responsibility of reorganising the local Civil Service. In this he was very successful. Legend has it that applicants had to detail their sporting interests when applying for a position. Those who were able to belt both the cricket and rugby ball were placed at a very definite advantage. Joey Milton rose to the rank of Administrator of the Colony and held the position for sixteen years. During this time he was the delegate representing Southern Rhodesia at the National Convention in Durban in 1908 which led to the formation of the Union of South Africa. Joey, retired in 1914, as Sir William Milton K. C. M. G., K. C. V. G. Whilst in high office he continued to find time to promote sport, serving as President of the Rhodesian Rugby Union from 1900 to 1914 and being responsible for the purchase and laying out the grounds of Harare Sports Club, today still the venue of test cricket in Zimbabwe. He also had a prominent school in Bulawayo named after him. Joey was a fine all round cricketer, who led Western Province in their first representative match and also captained them to victory by seventeen runs over the tourists. The local side did have an advantage, however, in that they were allowed twenty two batsmen in each innings. Joey top scored in both innings and captained South Africa in the second test of the series at Newlands and in the only test on the next tour here by England in 1891/92. His sporting genes came through in the next generation in that two of his sons carried on the in the tradition he set and were capped for England at rugby in the early 1900’s.

Sitting on the ground, at the front left, is A. E. Osche who was known to his team mates as ‘Okey’. Osche held a unique record in South African cricket history for well over one hundred years being the youngest test cricketer selected for South Africa at 19 years and one day when he took the field for the first test.

This record was only broken in December 1995 when Paul Adams at 18 years and 340 days played against Mike Atherton’s English team. Okey was born in Graaff Reinet and educated in Cape Town. He first made a name for himself as a cricketer in the Free State, a province which turned down the opportunity of playing the tourists, claiming that the R300 guarantee required by the tour organisers would cripple their financial resources. Okey was then forced to move to Johannesburg and it was from this centre that he gained selection, playing in both tests of the series but meeting with little success. He was not chosen again for his country although he was to play for his province against the next two English touring sides and achieved a creditable batting average at first class level of 35.83 with a top score of 99. Sadly Okey was a casualty of the First World War, dying on the Messines Ridge in France in 1918.

Next is Major R. B. Stewart, a British military officer, who was born in India and educated in England. He had been stationed for many years in this country, mainly in the Eastern Cape but served for short spells in both the Free State and Natal. When selected for this test the Major was over thirty two years of age and it was felt that his best years were past. He had made his debut in South African cricket over ten years before, when he was considered the top cricketer in the country, with a reputation of being a stylish bat. It was his misfortune to be injured during the match and he was assisted when batting, by a runner, Charlie Vintcent. On his retirement from the Army he settled in this country at Cala, a small village nestling at the foot of the southern Drakensberg mountains in the Eastern Cape.

Gustav Kempis, is the eleventh player in the squad, and another who was born in Port Elizabeth though he moved with his family to Natal at a very young age. Gustav had earned a considerable reputation as a left arm medium pace bowler who had the ability to move the ball both ways while maintaining a good line and length. He made his name in the two fixtures for his province against the tourists bowling, in all, nearly 125 overs with 50 maidens conceding 156 runs and capturing 13 wickets. Both his strike rate and his ability to contain the batsman being impressive. The first test was his only appearance for the national side and in opening the bowling he stamped his authority on the proceedings, taking 4 wickets in all, with the first innings analysis of 3 for 53 off 31 overs. There is no record of why he was left out of the team for the second match and the match at Port Elizabeth was his last appearance in first class cricket. Gustav was another young man who sought adventure and went off to explore the East coast of Africa, sadly passing away on Chiloane Island, just off the coast of Mozambique, from fever just over twelve months after making his test debut. He was only twenty four years old at the time of his death.

His younger brother, George, also represented South Africa at cricket, being a member of the first side to tour United Kingdom in 1894. Well how did the team fare in the First Test? The ground was pretty basic, with a matting wicket, and not much grass in the outfield. Possibly the wind would have caused havoc with both players and spectators, for the match was a low scoring affair. Play commenced at 12 noon with Owen Dunell winning the toss for South Africa and batting. Stumps were drawn at just after six in the evening by which time both sides had completed their first innings and 141.2 overs been bowled. South Africa were dismissed for eighty four runs with Tancred scoring 29 runs and Owen Dunell, playing a dogged captains knock, being undefeated on twenty six. Extra’s at ten were the next highest score so that the remaining nine batsmen could only contribute nineteen runs between them. The whole team defended dourly and it needed seventy five overs, of which forty two were maidens, to be bowled by the visitors before they were able to dismiss the local side.

England did not fare much better, having great difficulty in adjusting to the matting wicket and the local playing conditions. They were all out for one hundred and forty eight runs with the tailenders coming to light after the top order had failed. They contributing the bulk of the score with the 10th wicket partnership totalling 35 runs. The successful South African bowlers were Rose Innes and Kempis. Our second innings was an even a more pedestrian affair, with the total of 129 being compiled off 90 overs. The batting rested once more on Tancred’s shoulders and he scored twenty nine runs, Joey Milton making nineteen. England were left with relatively easy task of scoring sixty seven runs for victory which they accomplished for the loss of only two wickets. The match was over by mid afternoon of the second day.

An interesting analysis, is the comparison of the number of overs bowled during the course of this match, and that achieved in present day cricket. Granted in those days an over consisted of only four balls but this would have necessitated fielders having to adjust their positions more regularly and also involving the umpires in much more movement. In all, just over 250 overs were sent down in the one and a half days of the Test and one is left with the impression that the players packed far more action into their day than what is achieved now. In defence of today’s cricketers the early pioneers of the game in this country did not have to worry about bumpers and helmets, tea breaks, media scrutiny or sponsors demands.

South Africa’s English opponents in this inaugural test series were also a team of characters with diverse interests who did much to improve the standard of cricket in this country, some stayed on after the tour was over and set up in business or became involved in politics before moving on to other parts of the world, but that’s another story.


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